Haircut 101

Haircut 101

For Daniel Maier, a simple trip to the hair salon is fraught with impossible decisions and unknowable etiquette.

 

Haircuts, like life, were simple when I was a boy. Principally because I had no say in them, or it. A parent would take me to Gosforth High Street and instruct a man in a room to remove a deal of my hair, restoring the unremarkable bowlcut that had gradually lost its definition over the preceding weeks. At some point, roughly when puberty and the 80s arrived, I graduated to the young executive’s side parting, and that was pretty much it ‘til I left home.

 

As an adult, haircuts, like so many things, have become a lot more complex, because they carry the burden of decision-making. For fifteen years or so I’ve entrusted maintenance to Toni & Guy. Yet still, every time I go in, I fear being shown up as someone who doesn’t really understand how hair salons work. This, I suspect, is because I’m a man. A man who believes all women know the secret of what to do and what to ask for when they get their hair done, as opposed to all men, who retain some atavistic urge to cut their hair with two sharpened rocks by a stream.

 

It starts as soon as I go in. I rarely phone ahead, just wander in off the street and wait as the woman at the counter runs a chewed ball-point lid up and down today’s page in the appointment book. As they look to see if anyone’s free to take me on, I’ll gaze up at the price list.

 

DECISION 1:

 

Which professional grade is sufficiently qualified to do justice to my hair? What should I be inferring about the quality of the options, which start with Man Who Has Come To Fix The Water Cooler, and range through Trainee Stylist, Stylist, Senior Stylist, Style Director, Chief Executive Style Officer (Europe) and Oberst-Gruppenhairführer, right up to God Of All Haircutting? Am I supposed to ask for a specific one? I never do. But I worry that this is like going to a restaurant, studying the wine list and then asking for ‘a bottle of wine’. In any case, they always say “There’s an appointment available now with a Style Director…?” “Have you got anyone cheaper? My hair’s shit anyway.” I reply, in my head. “That’s fine.” I reply, with my mouth.

 

Hervé the Style Director proffers a gown.

 

DECISION 2:

 

Ah, the gown. Is it front- or back-loading? I panic every time. They all used to be front-loading, didn’t they? Like proper smocks. But now you’re meant to turn your back. I still have to resist the urge to dive in front-first, like a child eager to start painting mugs.

 

I’m led to to the chair. “So,” asks Hervé, eek-eek-eeking the chair to an appropriate height, “what are we doing?”

 

DECISION 3:

 

The critical one, I suppose. Choose how I want my hair cut. Impossible, of course. I want to say, “Imagine how it looked about six weeks ago. That.” Instead I feel obliged to use hairdressery words and mutter something about texture and layers.

 

I’m whisked off to have my hair washed.

 

DECISIONS 4-6:

 

“Is the temperature ok?” Right, I know this one. Yes. The temperature is always ok. “Do you want the peppermint conditioner?” of course I want the peppermint conditioner. Tingle me the hell up. This is my favourite part of the whole process, really. A relaxing head massage as I gaze at the screen showing Toni & Guy TV and try and work out which hipster video is playing by reading the mirror-written artist and song title, before it flips around the right way. The only possible issue is Decision 6 – do I tell the hairwasher (from whose fingers alone I always think I glean a general sense of boredom and looking-round-the-room-ness) that some water is going down the back of my neck? Or is that just part of the deal?

 

I’m led back to the chair. “Would you like a tea or coffee?”

 

DECISION 7:

 

Now, I don’t drink coffee. So this is an easy one. But the arrival of the tea and accompanying magazines creates serious difficulties.

 

DECISIONS 8-9:

 

When the hell am I meant to pick up these things that you’ve brought me? A man is cutting my hair, for God’s sake. When do I reach for the teacup? And how, without tilting my head down, do I leaf through this copy of Esquire or GQ in its unnecessarily unwieldy opaque Muji binder? Am I meant to ask Hervé to stop cutting for a minute so I can take a sip and dip my mini-biscuit, or skim-read an up-close-and-personal with Bradley Cooper? Or do I just keep my head still and hold up the magazine in front of my face as if I was a bad private detective in a hotel lobby? I usually have a cursory riffle through a few pages so as not to appear ungrateful – like they would care – and try and time my go at the tea for when Hervé’s not doing anything particularly delicate. Even then, I stay rigid, carefully and precisely ferrying the cup to and from my lips as if I was a bomb disposal expert in a full body cast. There is added time pressure to complete this manoeuvre, as within moments the tea will be rendered undrinkable by flying hair clippings drifting around its surface.

 

And then the cut is done, and it’s time to pay.

 

DECISION 10:

 

Do I leave a tip? People used to tip hairdressers. I should leave a tip. But this is Toni Et Guy. I’m paying forty quid as it is. And it seems a bit of an insult to press a few pound coins into the palm of the Style Director. But maybe the tips go to Distracted Fingers Hairwash Girl and Bringer Of Mags and Tea and the other junior staff? But then again, if that’s the deal, have a tips jar. So I don’t tip.

 

Finally, back on the pavement and squinting at my reflection in a succession of shop windows, I invariably suffer post-cut doubt. Does it look good, or have a been sold a hair lemon? Should I go and show it off, or hide in the dark at home with a teatowel on my head? Decisions, decisions.

 

 

 

 

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